Season’s Greetings! Even though it’s the end of 2021, it’s the perfect time to start something new and launch 2022 in a completely new direction.
Recently, as I frantically cleared away some clutter in anticipation of a houseguest, I came across a workbook that I made years ago. I was a young social worker, about to close the case of two little girls that I had worked with for several years. We were all struggling with saying goodbye, so I stapled together a collection of worksheets they could do that would remind them of their strengths.
On the cover of the workbook I wrote, “It is very difficult to say goodbye. It makes us feel sad and worried. This workbook is made to help you to be strong when you have to say goodbye. It will remind you of what a great person you are. Remember, after the goodbyes come NEW BEGINNINGS. Look for new beginnings with other people, in other places, and in all the new things you can learn about yourself!”
Please indulge me while I pat myself on the back and marvel at how much wisdom I possessed at the tender age of 24. Now lament with me as I wonder, wait, what happened to all that wisdom?? Where did it go?? I’m sure it’s in there somewhere, buried underneath a slew of passwords for banking, shopping, and working.
Anyway, this is the time of year when we say goodbye to the present year and welcome a new one. The countdown on New Year’s Eve really is a “good” bye. We look forward to a new year and place bets on how long it will take us to write the date correctly.
The holiday season can be challenging when you’ve lost a child. There are a lot of conflicting emotions; there are a lot of situations where two completely opposite concepts are true at the same time. Navigating these dichotomies can be like walking through a minefield.
There’s holiday joy—decorations! Music! Cookies! But there’s also holiday sorrow, wishing my son Matt was there to admire the decorations and eat the cookies. The holiday season is a time of anticipation for the other children I know, and their excitement is contagious. It’s intermingled with dread too, because my boy won’t be there when I wake up on Christmas Day.
This time of year is jumbled for me as I remember the happy memories with my son and daughter when they were kids—and miss those times so desperately. My daughter is an adult now—and let me tell you, there’s something to be said for sleeping till noon on Christmas Day, knowing she’ll drive herself over later. I want to make the best possible holiday for her without pretending that there isn’t a missing space in our world that only her brother can fill.
When I found the Goodbye Workbook, I studied that cover and I wondered if I could apply my own words of wisdom to my situation. In doing so, I hope that other parents suffering from the loss of a child can find some comfort as well.
Whether you like it or not, every goodbye is followed by a new beginning. The seasons change, the dog still poops, the bank sends the mortgage statement. All these same-old activities become brand new, because it all happens without the presence of your child. As soon as you wake up in the morning, it’s a new beginning, even if it’s not the new beginning you want.
Part of my new way of doing things after my son died was to accept both the positive and the negative. If I was having a terrible day missing Matt, I didn’t pretend that I was fine. If something great happened, I didn’t lessen the positivity by qualifying it with, “That would be better if Matt was here.” Well, of course it would be better! Everything short of nuclear war would be better if Matt was here.
When Matt’s high school football team won their division’s Super Bowl, it was a thrilling day. A hot summer afternoon spent in my pool is a wonderful experience. A brisk hike in the Fall on a trail I’ve never seen is exciting. These examples are positive for their own merit, and I make a conscious choice to appreciate them for exactly that. In these other places, I find a new beginning.
Every year, the anniversary of Matt’s death is a shitty day. I visit the cemetery and I do a lot of crying. I don’t plaster on a fake smile and go to work; I don’t pretend that it’s a just another day. I am acutely aware that I am privileged to be able to call in sick and mope for a day. If I didn’t have that privilege, I’d have a crappy day and end up apologizing to a lot of people. There’s nothing wrong with saying, “Today is a difficult day for me.”
I have found that by being honest about a bad day, I have been able to relate to other people—even strangers. I have learned of the losses suffered by professional colleagues that I wouldn’t have known about if I wasn’t open about my own loss. It’s important to make these connections; in this way I find new beginnings with other people.
When your child dies, you have a lot of difficult days. You also have a lot of nice days. I have learned to face both types and accept them for what they are. Life only moves forward; you can’t rewind and try again. You also can’t fast forward past the unpleasantries. But it’s your life and you get to live it your way.
This blog is me following my own advice to look for new beginnings within myself. Writing my novels has been such an effective coping mechanism. I can learn new things from my own characters! My resolution for 2022 is to continue to reach out to other people with this blog, my website, and my books. In this way, I have changed the meaning of saying goodbye to Matt. We always talked about starting a business together, and I like to think that he is encouraging me to explore new endeavors.